Arnold Kling

Global Warming

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Global warming is the topic this week discussed by Richard Posner and Gary Becker. Posner writes,


[The Kyoto Protocol] is either too much or too little. It is too much if, as most scientists believe, global warming will continue to be a gradual process, producing really serious effects...only toward the end of the century. For by that time science, without prodding by governments, is likely to have developed economical “clean” substitutes for fossil fuels (we already have a clean substitute—nuclear power) and even economic technology for either preventing carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels or for removing it from the atmosphere. But the Protocol, at least without the participation of the United States, is too limited a response to global warming if the focus is changed from gradual to abrupt global warming.

This is an important point. The present value of a reduction in environmental damage in the year 2099 is quite low. To pay a huge price now in order to achieve such a reduction is not sound. See Lomborg's Lessons.

Becker writes,


When climatologists construct models of global warming caused by industrial emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, they are much more like economists than the typical experimental biologist or physicist. By that I mean that they can only test the implications of their models with the data thrown up by current and past actual events, not by experimental isolation of particular forces.

To me, climate models are like macroeconometric models. Those models, which are used to analyze and forecast unemployment, inflation, and so on, are certainly not one of the economics profession's shining successes.

One of the reasons that the climate models show that the required reduction in emissions is so large is that the coefficient on emissions is so small. That is, the response of temperature change to emissions is relatively small, so that in order to reduce global temperatures, we have to make dramatic cutbacks in emissions--and then pray that the models are indeed correct.

Posner argues that it is abrupt climate change that ought to concern us. What I would say in response is that if climate change is going to come abruptly, then the major climate models are wrong. Therefore, before we adopt a policy to deal with abrupt climate change, we would need to come up with new climate models that predict such change, presumably with some basis in reality. Then, we would have to re-examine the emissions targets of Kyoto in light of these new climate models. But to take an emissions target derived from models of slow climate change to address a fear of rapid climate change strikes me as taking a stab in the dark.

For Discussion. Are there some reputable climate models that do predict abrupt climate change?


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TRACKBACKS (4 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/173
The author at Tech Policy in a related article titled Becker and Posner on Climate Change writes:
    The topic of discussion at the Becker-Posner blog for the week is Climate Change. Posner and Becker both agree that there is a problem and some action needs to be taken. While Posner supports the U.S. joining the Kyoto protocol, Becker does not think t... [Tracked on December 20, 2004 2:51 PM]
The author at Crumb Trail in a related article titled Shining Successes writes:
    This week's subject at Becker-Posner was climate variability and Kyoto. The posts were riddled with errors and fuzzy thinking that begged for rebuttal but there were also some useful observations. It seemed like too much work to do a good job of posti... [Tracked on December 20, 2004 3:40 PM]
The author at No Illusions in a related article titled Becker, Posner and Kyoto writes:
    Today's commentaries by Gary Becker and Richard Posner take on global warming. I find one of Becker's points particularly compelling, and little discussed. Regardless of your view on global warming, Kyoto and similar frameworks are likely to ... [Tracked on December 20, 2004 7:21 PM]
The author at Business Opportunities Weblog in a related article titled Carnival of the Capitalists writes:
    Welcome to this week's edition of the Carnival of the Capitalists. Today's show may not be big, but it's chock full of insight and ideas for the new year. In my favorite post of the carnival, Why Aren't There More... [Tracked on December 27, 2004 12:56 PM]
COMMENTS (37 to date)
Boonton writes:
[The Kyoto Protocol] is either too much or too little. It is too much if, as most scientists believe, global warming will continue to be a gradual process, producing really serious effects...only toward the end of the century. For by that time science, without prodding by governments, is likely to have developed economical “clean” substitutes for fossil fuels (we already have a clean substitute—nuclear power)

Leaving aside the fact that nuclear power creates its own environmental problems, it's foolish to assume science will just go and develop new energy production methods that do not depend on CO2 emissions. There must be an incentive to develop an alternative.

Science has yet to develop an alternative to the internal combustion engine despite the fact that it is more than 100 years old. Assume that global warming is real but gradual AND that there won't be other unmanagable problems with fossil fuels (such as running out of oil or things like that). What real economic incentive is there to develop alternative energy sources or even to invest in ways to reduce emmissions from the current sources? The only one I can think of is good PR and a few pats on the back from the enviromental community.

I would put in place a very small tax on CO2 emmissions or better yet institute a 'cap and trade' program but keep the initial allocation of permits very high. There will be a modest incentive to cut down but the economic impact will not be devastating. If the real damage doesn't happen until 2099 then it makes sense for the investment made to prevent that damage today to be very low. On the other hand, if better models in the future indicate that the problem is much more serious than we believe it is today we will have the framework ready to take more drastic action.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

Climate history shows that non-anthropogenic rapid climate shifts can occur. For example, there was a period of time not that long ago on geologic scales when global Earth temperatures were much higher than they were now. Then you had the "little ice age" within human memory.

So I look at the answer to anthropogenic climate change the same way I look at natural climate change: rich people can survive climate change, poor people die when climate changes. Rich people can buy air conditioning, move their houses, build hurricane shelters, etc. Poor people don't even have a radio to know when the hurricane is coming.

The solution: help everyone on the planet get richer. Do the least harm to the economy.

William Woodruff writes:

Although I do not subscribe to the broken windown philosophy, some fools do (including but not limited to the Bush Administration, through their activity)

Therefore, for those who prescribe to the broken window philosophy, we should sign Kyoto, warts and all. More jobs, greater development, these spillovers should make a fiscal conservative salivate !

Yet, we hear nothing but scepticism from their camp.
End of rant.

Back to your question. Are there some reputable climate models that do predict abrupt climate change?

Ask farmers in the south of France, Italy,Austria and Germany (2003) and residents of Alaska if climat changes abruptively (relatively)?

William

mcwop writes:

So far as I can tell from the available research there is warming. But that warming will be harmful is not conclusive.

Taxes and treaties will do nothing at this point, because alternatives to CO2 producing energy sources cannot be easily implemented. Examples are the resistance to nuclear power (and waste storage), and the Cape Wind project.

If you buy into global warming and the potential negative impact, then something on the scale of eliminating 100% of coal electric plants is needed. The problem is that you have to replace it with something.

Conservation and fuel efficiency will contribute, but it is not enough to offset developing nations' increasing CO2 output.

One of the more sensible summaries on energy, global warming, and related energy issues is Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran's "Power To The People"
http://www.vijaytothepeople.com/

Boonton writes:
Taxes and treaties will do nothing at this point, because alternatives to CO2 producing energy sources cannot be easily implemented. Examples are the resistance to nuclear power (and waste storage), and the Cape Wind project.

The problem here is that the thinking is too short sighted. A modest tax (or even better cap & trade) provides an incentive to reduce CO2. Let the market figure out how to do that. While coal & oil may not immediately be replaced an incentive at least exists to find ways to decrease CO2 emmissions. Since there is currently no real incentive to directly target CO2, it is highly likely that there is a lot of 'wasted emmissions' that can be eliminated at nearly no cost.

The nice part of this approach is that you pluck the low hanging fruit that is cheapest to pluck initially and then you have plenty of time to see if you really need to incur the expense to start cutting into the muscle. Along the way someone we may even strike it lucky & discover some really cheap alternative to greenhouse gasses.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Does anyone else remember the Carl Sagan model that predicted nuclear winter over the Persian Gulf region as a result of the oil well fires from the first Gulf War? That model was certainly reputable at the time.

As little faith as I put in the so-called science of global warming (and I have reasons for my distrust of the motives of many in the field stemming from a class taught by two Nobel Laureates while I was in college), I have even less faith in the politics of it, as manifested by Kyoto. My global Type-M argument is as follows... The First World is especially concerned about the prospect of 1 billion Chinese and 1 billion Indians quickly developing into wealthy societies on the level (or perhaps a level above) established European countries. The United States, being the free trade anchor of the world and historically about the only successful European colonization project, sees India and China as less of a threat and much more of an opportunity. If Europe could cap growth in China and India easier through regulation of the Internet, they'd go that route rather than through an obscure (but politically correct) proxy to energy consumption. Europe sees the United States as a rebel teenager in this fight, with Europe refusing to understand how differently we view and interact with the developing world.

Boonton writes:

That makes some sense Brad except for the fact that Kyoto exempts developing nations so how effective is it as a tool to hold growth down in developing countries relative to Europeans?

Also one of the prime objections the US raised is that developing countries should not have been exempted! Carl Sagan's model is a lesson to keep in mind but no more than that. Its failure to accurately predict the result of oil fires from the Gulf War does not prove that Global Warming cannot happen or anything like that.

I'm not even sure his model was reputable at the time. Was it a serious model or was it more a publicity stunt? Did he publish the prediction in a peer reviewed journal? Was a serious post mortum ever done to determine why the predictions didn't pan out? Or was this something to get on CNN with a soundbite?

Lawrance George Lux writes:

My take on the Kyoto Treaty was that it was the wrong approach at the wrong time. Reduction of Carbon emissions is important to the ecology, but hyping on climate change is irrelevant. What is the problem here?

We are denuding the Forests, and pumping Carbons from the ground. Trees are the natural ecological response to excess surface Carbon content. Reforestation programs coupled with economically-feasible Carbon reduction technologies are the answer.

What mode of operation can be conducted? Tell Oil companies they must plant so many tress per so many barrels of Fuel products sold. Area potential for Forestation as Interstates(replace the edge fencing posts with trees), replanting logged areas, plant marginal farmland to trees, create more and larger City parks, and cover Landfills with trees. Does this sound simplistic and unrealistic? A single grown Tree represents the Carbon emissions of a coal-fired Power plant operating 16 hours. lgl

shamus writes:

Our understanding of global climate is primitive, while the earth is a hugely complicated nonlinear system. It's heinously presumptive to claim that we have the ability to analyze the effect of the Kyoto treaty.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Boonton... China and India are asked (though not required) and incentivized by Kyoto to curb growth of so-called greenhouse gas emissions. Do not take US tactical positions on Kyoto-like treaties as its real position. The US's real position is that climatology is a science which is not yet up to making accurate long-term predictions. Hell, with all the satellites orbiting the planet, we still can't accurately predict landfall of a Cat-5 Hurricane until Geraldo gets pounded with wind and rain on TV. What makes anyone think we can decide whether our warming is a trend of its own or part of a cycle, and if a trend on its own, then assign a percentage of causation to external influences (solar activity), natural internal influences (volcanoes), and man made internal influences (fossil fuels)? The strongest even the scientists say is "we might be doing this" and the political conclusion drawn is "if we might, then we must change our behavior".

Paraphrase from WikiPedia... Sagan was an early adherant to the nuclear winter and global warming theories, popularizing the view (in the Cosmos series of all things) that Venus got to its state of affairs through some cataclismic sequence of events that took it from Earth-like to Hellish. That he was so incredibly wrong on the Gulf War oil fires warning just 14 years ago (written in an op-ed piece and spoken on Nightline) ought to make us all a little bit skeptical about global political solutions of 8 years ago that claim a scientific basis in climatology.

Anyway, provided a warming global climate does not spin out of control, what would be wrong with more farmable land, more temperate winters, etc.? Honestly, I don't think anyone on the East Coast with their wits about them would object to some global warming this week.

Bob Knaus writes:

I believe (speaking strictly as a layman) that the climate change models suggest an increased probability of abrupt change, but they do not actually predict when it will occur. If you compare it to a long-range weather forecast, it is accurate to say that in the Bahamas, between May and September, the barometric pressure will be 1004 millibars and the winds will be southeast at 15 knots most of the time. But... once in a while... you'll get a hurricane with much lower pressures and much higher winds. Just can't say when, in advance.

Climate has changed abruptly many times in the past, although none of these changes to date has been caused by human activity. Will global warming increase the frequency of these occurences? Maybe. But the models can't say when, anymore than we can predict next season's hurricanes today.

Capt. Bob Knaus
S/V PELLUCID

Ronnie Horesh writes:

We don't know how fast or dramatically the climate is changing. We don't know what's causing it; we certainly don't know what is the cheapest solution. We can't sit back and hope for the best, but neither should we participate in Kyoto - which is concerned only with reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, however little that will do. My solution: Climate Stability Bonds, which inextricably tie rewards to achievement of climate stability. They do not prejudge how best to mitigate climate change: instead they inject market incentives into the achievement of sustained climate stability.

Boonton writes:

Brad, that basically nukes your theory of Kyoto. Europeans want to retard growth in India and China by *asking* them to curb CO2 while they require themselves to curb it? Come on! If anything this sounds like a plot by India & China to accelerate growth in their countries by getting the Europeans to retard growth in Europe!

Paraphrase from WikiPedia... Sagan was an early adherant to the nuclear winter and global warming theories, popularizing the view (in the Cosmos series of all things) that Venus got to its state of affairs through some cataclismic sequence of events that took it from Earth-like to Hellish. That he was so incredibly wrong on the Gulf War oil fires warning just 14 years ago (written in an op-ed piece and spoken on Nightline) ought to make us all a little bit skeptical about global political solutions of 8 years ago that claim a scientific basis in climatology.

We are all over the map here. The models and scientific studies on Global Warming were much more sophisticated than Sagan's 'op-ed piece & Nightline appearence'. That doesn't make them right but it does mean they deserve more respect than an off the cuff remark by a person that was...let's face it...more pundit and popularizer than scientist.

We are still where I said we were, we are unable to say global warming is not a problem and we are unable to say that our activity is not a significant part of it. Logically we should take inexpensive steps to curb CO2 until we learn more. Then we will be in a better position to decide whether we need to take expensive steps.

Jon writes:

Somehow, when certain economists and organizations comment on the scientific issues underlying various environmental problems, I cannot help shake the feeling that they are more trying to twist things into their agenda then really analyze the facts. How otherwise would one explain the correlations between positions on environmental issues and a purist free market political agenda. This applies to those with the opposite agenda also (but in the opposite direction).

The physics and chemistry of global warning, ground level ozone, lead and mercury contamination, etc. is not affected by the
the benefits and problems one has with free markets and government intervention.

p writes:

Posner and Becker raise some interesting points but fail to address the real issue - what are the facts. A number of responses have challenged the facts and another gorup has questioned their understanding of "scientific" facts.

The science of global warming is weak at best.

The assertion that we have rising temperatures for the past 100 years (and particularly in the last 50) is a fair assertion as long as we accept the "facts" as presented by tempearture stations (and with limited control for urbanization error). The question becomes merky when we look at satelite data where no significant increase in temeprature is recorded. Thus the "facts" are in conflict.

The next problem we encounter is how to place temepature changes in the context on planetary history. Here again, while we see an increase in recent history, it is not out of proportion to other temperature changes. In fact, the cycle appears to be running through time. Thus, we see no real divergence with climate history.

The third problem we encounter with the "facts" is that we are unsure of the causality for planetary temperature changes. Man-made greenhouse gases are asserted to be the primary causal factor we should focus on. Here again the "facts" just don't add up. Greenhouse gases are produced in larger quantities by nature than humanity. In addition, temperature changes on the planet appear to more highly correlatated with sun spot cycle than greenhouse gases.

The forth problem with the "facts" is that critical factors are ommited from global warming models. For example, the "Iris" effect. Several notable researchers, one from MIT, have asserted that ommision leads to erroneous models.

The next problem with teh "facts" are the consequences of global warming. We shall see rising oceans, glacial meltings, etc. ... Again the "facts" just don't support the assertions. We see no material rise in oceans ... Glacial melting is following historical patterns ... I willnot comment onteh other "sky is falling" scenarios ...

Finally, the models themselves are flawed. They are not as good as econometric models (NOT BY A LONG SHOT). Many of the models are not calibrated with historical data. I know that many will say that there are technical reason for this. I know that. That just doesn't cut it.

I think that the Kyoto treatiy is dying for one reason alone - the facts are not there to substantiate concern. In five years people will have forgotten this bogus scare.

p writes:

Ronnie:

... the bond idea is interesting ... I do have one problem ... the market can only function if people are willing to participate ... why would they ... just to speculate ... No idea if global warming is an issue, what are it's ramifications, or how it can be managed does not sound like the basis of a strong market opportunity ...

Boonton writes:
I think that the Kyoto treatiy is dying for one reason alone - the facts are not there to substantiate concern. In five years people will have forgotten this bogus scare.

Yea, we were told this 5 years ago.

Your objections are valid but a bit over the top. For example, let's assume natural sources of greenhouse gasses are much more than man made sources. That doesn't tell us if man's contribution will be the tipping point. Besides are you sure about that assertion to begin with? I believe CO2, at least, has increased dramatically in the last 100 years and that increase has been tied to industrialization. Second that assertion overlooks the fact that many 'natural sources' of greenhouse gasses are coupled with natural processes that remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. Water vapor is a prime example.

We have good theoritical reasons to suspect that our alteration of the atmosphere may cause negative changes. We do not have proof as of yet that this is happening and our theoretical models are not yet powerful enough to say anything conclusive.

Perhaps the most devasting problem with your 'facts' post is that the facts as of yet do not allow us to rule anything out. So what to do? Given that we have a possibility of a severe problem down the line but we cannot say for certain we should assign it a low probability (but not zero) and combine with the potential cost if that probability comes to pass to arrive at an expected loss. It would make sense to invest up to that expected loss to address the problem.

p writes:

Boonton:

The amount of greenhouse gases produced naturally are not greater than those produced by humanity the variance associated with them is greater than the amount produced by humanity (over time). This suggests that a tipping point argument doesn't really play.

The reality of the situation is that the number of skeptics is growing rapidly in the global warming front. In Europe we see a sharp rise in scientists who are questioning the "facts" openly. The recent meeting Argentina is an early indictor that the fact-base for global warming is losing credibility. The only true consensus reached was more study is needed ... gone is the call for action ...


Switching back to the models that predict rapid change in temperature ... Yes there are models that do forecast rapid change ... the problem with most of them is that there is no basis for calibrating them ... consequently they are not considered "realistic"

Nate writes:

I find it incredible that we can debate the hypotheticals of long-term or abrupt climate changes without noticing the very real effects of pollution on the world around us. Smoggy cities, dirty streams, massive ocean dead zones, ozone holes, deterioriating ice sheets... these are tangible problems. Kyoto is a symbolic attempt to address these problems, and if we disagree with the specifics then we should aggressively work to rectify them.

I am sympathetic to arguments that Kyoto, as implemented, is not the most effective means to accomplish its stated aims. But I cannot be sympathetic to those who don't believe the aims are worthy.

Why limit ourselves to traditional economic models, that don't consider the many externalities of modern businesses? It is, I believe, imperative to stop relying upon traditional market thinking, where wealth creation is the only variable, and start considering the ramficiations on the environment and the well-being of everyday people.

p writes:

Nate ...

The fact that we discussing this issue should communicate to you that we are all concerned about the issue. I would go further and say it is our sense of concern that prompts us to fully understand the issue and not just run off as children to "save" the world.

The reality is that all actions have costs associated with them in the material universe we find ourselves. Economics is one science that prominently recognizes this fact.

As for your assertion that we can see pollution all around us sounds a bit childish. Of course there is pollution. Whether you know it or not the water, air and general environment are cleaner to day in America than they were 50 or 100 years ago. we have made progress and will continue to do so.

The secret to this progress will be understanding the science and economics of a healthy environment ... not the spirit of one.

Ronnie Horesh writes:
... the bond idea is interesting ... I do have one problem ... the market can only function if people are willing to participate ... why would they
Thanks p for your query. I understand your skepticism. But assume that Climate Stability Bonds are issued, and nobody bothers to buy them. They will fall in value. At some point, [if the issuers are serious and have issued enough bonds] their value will fall so low as to stimulate people to buy them who can do something, anything, to raise their value. I imagine there would be aggregation of the bonds, most likely by specialist brokers who would use their expected capital gains to adopt climate-stabilising measures. They would have continuous incentives to cooperate with other bond holders to get some projects off the ground. They would choose the most cost-effective projects first.
Brad Hutchings writes:

So Boonton... Why do India and China side with us against Kyoto if they are really exempt from it and it would (on surface according to your analysis) give them a competitive advantage? They know full well that when round 1 expires in 2012, they're next.

As to your question about why we don't try to do something in the face of possible warming... (a) we don't know what extent we're contributing to it, (b) we don't necessarily agree that warming is a bad thing and even that it isn't a good thing, (c) many of the actors in this game have dubious motives explicitly stated, and (d) the more this place out, the more people who don't give a damn. Just as our societal decisions are not made by economists, neither are they made by scientists. On balance, I think that's a good thing.

Boonton writes:

Brad, it is up to you to demonstrate your rather odd assertion that Kyoto would be a bigger drag on growth in China & India than in Europe. Opposition by China & India in themselves do not establish the validity of your theory.

As I said before, the uncertainity of the threat is not in itself reason to do nothing. It is only reason to do nothing terribly expensive. It's quite rational to take some steps now as we continue to collect data and work on our models.

Roger D. McKinney writes:

Concerning the question of whether climate models predicting abrupt change are accurate or not, I haven't read about any that claim to predict abrupt change. The last I read about the accuracy of any of the climate change models they were all pretty poor. If tested on data from 1900, most predicted that we would all be boiling today. A major problem with all of the models was their inability to include the effects of cloud cover. As the climate warms, evaporation increases which increases cloud cover. But cloud cover acts as a break on the warming process by reflecting energy back into space. As far as I know, no modeler has been able to include this feedback effect into his model, which is one reason among many that the models are so bad. But that doesn't stop people using them for political reasons.

p writes:

Boonton:

The Kyoto treaty is more of a drag on China and India than Europe for two reasons:
(1) Industry mix - China and India have more "basic" industries producing at high levels than Europe
(2)Emission controls - Europe has invested more in managing emissions than China and India (US is more environmentally friendly than Europe in the actual practice of limiting pollutants while Europe is a lot more self-righteous about the issue).


For that matter the US produces more output adjusted for emissions than Europe, China or India. One could argue that manufacturing should occur in the US given its comparative advantage. Oddly this fact continues to be missed by Europeans.

Another interesting “fact” (according to modeling) is that the US (our portion of North America) is a net sink for greenhouse gases and Europe is a net producer. This raises another question about the treaty. Why is the treaty not geared toward net producers?

Boonton writes:

p, do you have any sources showing that the US is a net sink of CO2? This would be rather stunning if true since it would mean that the US could make money selling emission credits to Europe!

BTW, while CO2 per dollar of output is lower in modern countries like Europe and the US this is due to these countries using fuel more efficiently. I haven't heard anything about either Europe or the US making serious investments to reduce CO2 output. Controlling 'pollution' is not the same thing at all, CO2 is not considered a pollutant...in the US at least.

p writes:

Boonton:

I read the sink story a while a go on http://www.co2science.org/. The site is a great source of scientific information

In addition, I understand the differnece between pollution and greenhouse gases (that why I noted it as a by the way). By the way, there is a large group of greens who see green house gases as a pollutant.

Deb Frisch writes:

Here's a prediction: eventually, some psychotic student is going to go into a university classroom and start shooting a la Columbine.
I predict that when this happens, it will be an economics professor who is at the wrong end of the AK47. It will be a smart student who hears a smug moron like arnold pontificating about net present value and discount rates to justify giving even less weight to future generations than we already do.

Mindlessing, robotically discounting future consequences the way you discount money is example #943,234 of why economists scare the shit out of me more than those brown terrorists.

Boonton writes:

What's even scarrier is that the technique generally works!

Nate writes:

P - it is simply not true that America is less polluted than it was 50 or 100 years ago.

Yes, regulation has curbed some of the grossest environmental negligence of corporations. The 'invisible' toxins and carcinogens releases by factories and automobiles are worse then ever, and the "Clear Skies" initiative of this administration has given industry carte blanche to continue pollution our air for the next decade. The number of days where the air is considered unsafe in major cities increases annually.

If you would like to get informed about these risks, here's one place to start:

http://uspirg.org/uspirg.asp?id2=8822&id3=USPIRG&

I am indeed alarmed by these problems, and I do not consider it merely an academic debate. I do not believe that mere discussion of the topic constitutes addressing it, especially when the conversation seems focused on dismissing the evidence that we are damaging the environment and effecting global climate change.

p writes:

Nate,

It's great to hear that you invoke “invisible” toxins as an argument ... you really are armed with the facts ...

As for the assertion that the air and water are not cleaner than 50 or 100 years ago in America, I will take exception. The stats are clear that we have less pollution (Menster, Borner and Young, 2001). They are straight from the government (and even voices by the Sierra Club as not good enough). As a matter of fact there are a number of pollutants that are now in concentrations below our ability to measure in the 70s.

In addition, you assertion that we don't care about the environment is absurd and self-righteous. As a student of biology and later public policy, I can assure you that people who care are capable of framing problems in more than a gloom and doom format.

The assertion that economic models cannot or do not address negative externalities is also absurd. One can easily argue that the concept of negative externalities was created by economists to address problems not captured fully in simple market analysis.

I will also put forward that economists,the poor forecasters that they have proven to be, have consistently outperformed biologists in predicting future economic scenarios (Spangler and Altis, 2003).

Nate writes:

P,

The pollution of 100 or 50 years ago tended to be much more visible - in your face - than that of today. (At least, in America. Our corporations now choose to do their dirtiest work in less regulated locales.) Oil spills, industrial waste, soot, etc. Today, the threat is more subtle but just as real: we can't see the C02 coming out of the back of a gas guzzler, but it's there all the same (http://uspirg.org/uspirg.asp?id2=5235&id3=USPIRG&). Same with the residual affects of agribusiness, which has created massive oceanic dead zones (http://www.unwire.org/UNWire/20040329/449_22264.asp).

Did you really miss the obvious or were you simply unable to resist throwing an insult?

I have made no doom and gloom assertions, nor have I claimed that "you" don't care. (Who is the "we" you refer to, anyhow?) To the contrary, the tone of your responses suggest that you care quite a bit.

As I said, I do believe that there is ample, tangible evidence of increasing pollution in the world around me. All one has to do is looking out over the San Francisco Bay. And the accumulating scientific data reinforces my believe that this is a problem in America and the world at large.

I believe that more expansive economic models, which treat environmental and health and quality of life as first-order variables rather than reducing them to dollars amounts, is an interesting and worthy area of further research. You claim I'm absurd for not seeing how these are addressed by current models. Please point me to some models or work that attempt to do this, as I'm interested in learning more -- and, admittedly, quite skeptical.

Return to the original topic, you dismissed the entire science of global warming as "weak", you questioned whether global warming is a problem (ask that of the Inuit), you suggested that the scientific community is increasingly dismissive of global warming theories, and you suggested that this could all be part of natural climate change (i.e., not due to man's activities). This all flies in the face of my own understanding and certainly fails to give me the impression that you're seriously concerned about the environment. You must know that the scientific community at large is, in fact, increasingly of the opinion that the global climate change is real (the Arctic Climate Change Assessment is just that latest piece of evidence) and that it is harder than ever to attribute this change to natural factors alone.

What is it that you hope to accomplish or defend?

I agree that crying wolf will accomplish little, but I have not done so. Burying one's head in the sand is an equally ineffective tactic.

I could not track down your references -- could you provide links? I'm curious to see the basis for your stance.

Nate writes:

In a topic so polarized, it's easy to devolve to black-and-white arguments.

I should make it clear that I am enthusiastic about the environmental progress that has been made in aspects of American industry, even as I lament our fall behind some of our industrialized peers. Yet I am reminded that this progress has generally not come from within, but in response to pressure from without.

I feel we can and should do more, but it's less likely to happen so long as we measure the health of the economy without regards to the environmental impact. When's the last time we heard the eco footprint of a company announced alongside its quarterly revenue or stock price?

I do not mean demonize economists or economics, but simply ask for more from the science and its practitioners.

Deb Frisch writes:

"I do not mean demonize economists or economics, but simply ask for more from the science and its practitioners."

Economists who justify discounting the costs to future generations in the name of "net present value" bullshit deserve to be demonized.

Deb Frisch writes:

[Macroeconometric ]models, which are used to analyze and forecast unemployment, inflation, and so on, are certainly not one of the economics profession's shining successes.

Hey! I agree with you about something. But I can't think of any shining success in the economics profession. Can you?

p writes:

Nate,

I do not have urls for the authors listed earlier but I have tracked down one good source of info for you. The pdf url below conatins a wealth of information on the environment http://www.pacificresearch.org/pub/sab/enviro/04_enviroindex/Enviro_2004.pdf

I will continue to assert that the envrionment overall has improved dramatcially over the past 50 years. Your continued asertions that you observe pollution may be true but not the relevant perspective. We are speaking about the entire US here. Unless you have experienced the entire US continuously for the past 50 years your experience is irrelevant to the discussion.

I will also like to add that your statement that polution is real and that economic models and/or economic thinking is getting in the way of facts is absurd. The truth of the matter is that your perspective of enlightment is the problem. We cannot address environmental issues without understanding them in the perspctive that materially situated humanity confronts them. Cost-benefit is a rationale means of confronting tehse problems in a constructive manner. While economic models may have limits, they enable issues to be discussed rationally.

p writes:

Nate,

here is another document that clearly documents that our environment is improving over time.

http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/sustain/

The source is excellent and should provide you with the facts you desire.

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